Religious Schizophrenia (on Faith and Scholarship)

Dear Reader,

In our adult Sunday school class, we are studying different world religions. In a recent class, the pastor made the comment that he thinks scholars in a certain religion must have a kind of schizophrenia by which he meant that they as scholars they must have to hold two contradictory thoughts in their minds in order to adhere to their faith in the face of historical evidence which seems to contradict some of its tenets.

My immediate thought was that we as Christians do this too. In fact, I would think that all people do this to a certain extent, no matter what their belief system. Isn’t that partly the nature of faith? To hold beliefs for which there is no sure scientific or historical evidence? If we had evidence we could all agree on, it would not be faith.

Of course, what he was talking about was when scholarly evidence actually contradicts something one believes. This does take it to a different level. But I also think that others look at Christianity and think we do the same thing.

Not all Christians are strict 6-day creationists, of course, but in general these days I would say that the popular view of Christians is that we deny scientific evidence, whether about evolution and the age of the earth or global warming. From the outside, this appears to be a kind of deliberate ignorance, a choosing to ignore the evidence. From the inside, of course, I can say that not all Christians are of one opinion on these issues. And even if we do take the most anti-scientific stance (for lack of a better term), this is not necessarily ignorance. Whether one terms it such depends on where one stands. From the outside, yes, it may seem to be ignorance. For those who believe it, it is an adherence to faith in the face of the current scientific evidence which seems to point elsewhere, but we all know that scientific theories change. They are theories and they may be disproven in time. And even if we do not in our lifetimes see them replaced by something new, we continue to see by the eyes of faith rather than by those of man’s sight.

Now one may argue that these things are not akin to the particular issue that was being discussed in our class which has to do with historical evidence about the Council of Nicaea which directly contradicts some tenets of faith. My response is two-fold. First, those who adhere to a 6-day creation view do often feel that any divergence from this belief negates the biblical evidence thereby calling into question the validity of the whole Bible and undermining any Christian faith. In other words, it is a central issue for them.

My second response would be that there are other areas in which scholarship more directly comes into conflict (or seems to) with the biblical text. I spent many years (too many) in graduate school studying biblical Hebrew and I can tell you that such programs at secular universities drive most Christians in one of two directions. On the one hand, they may become more and more liberal, slowly denying the reliability of the Bible and abandoning the faith they came in with. On the other, they may just run away from the program. This can either be by leaving it altogether, fleeing the secular university for Christian forums or by fleeing the scene of battle by concentrating in a narrow area such as later biblical interpretation which does not require them to deal directly with the controversial issues.

As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the word of God, that it is inerrant. When we begin to pick and choose parts, we undermine the legitimacy of the whole thing. But biblical scholarship throws a couple of wrenches into this belief. Perhaps you have heard of the documentary hypothesis which says that the Pentateuch is actually made of at least four sources by different authors which were put together as a later date by an editor or editors. There are other similar theories about other biblical books, for example Isaiah which is divided up into two or three different prophetic books. Personally, I am not bothered so much by these theories. It doesn’t matter to be if different sources and editors were used. I believe if God can inspire one man, He can inspire many, and I have no problem saying that He worked through many people to create the text we have.

The larger problem I have is in the area of what we can textual criticism. I said above that “He worked through many people to create the text we have,” but the fact is we don’t have one text. We have a whole collection of texts, some in Hebrew and others in other ancient languages. And though I don’t think there are huge theological differences that arise from the different versions, there are discrepancies. Looking at those discrepancies and making logical inferences about which versions reflect the original and which are later corruptions, additions, or omissions is the work of textual criticism. What we find is that there is no one ancient version which is preferable. In one case, one text may seem to be the most authentic, in another another may be.

So how can we say that we believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God when we can’t even point to it and say here it is or there it is? When so much human error has clearly crept in? Was there ever even a time when it was perfect? When it was complete but not yet corrupted by any copying errors? Is this true for even one book, much less for the whole of the Old Testament? I don’t know. What I hold on to is that we have the text God wants us to have. Or perhaps I should say texts.

One might envy Islam which never translates the Koran. They have a text (I have no idea if they have different ancient versions or not actually but I am assuming they don’t have the issues the OT has) and they can point to it and say here it is. But we are left always unbalanced, never being able to quite hold onto what we hold so sacred. But perhaps that is also not an entirely bad thing. The Bible is holy, yes, but it is not divine. We revere it but we do not elevate it to the level of God Himself. That is not such a bad thing.

So am I schizophrenic? Honestly, I think I am. There are things here which make me uncomfortable, ideas I hold in tension in my mind and yet I refuse to give one of them up (to date at least). And that also is not an entirely bad thing. If our faith is something we can be sure of, if the scholarly evidence always supports it or at least never contradicts it, there is not really much faith left in it, is there?

Some, of course, would claim to only accept what can be proven to them, but even these people must at some point either give in and believe things they can’t prove or else be willing to say that there is a lot they don’t know.

So I guess for me, the argument that another’s religion requires them to engage in a kind of religious schizophrenia is just not an argument against it. Now there may be other arguments, I hope there are, but I find myself unwilling to condemn someone just because they can’t explain and make consistent all the tenets of their belief system.



4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Patti on November 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks, Nebby! I always find your thoughts interesting and challenging. I found the following video fascinating on the topic of the Bible and why we have the 66 particular books we do and if the Bible is reliable. Thanks for taking time to share. Patti


  2. Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.


  3. Thanks ladies. Both for your thoughts Nebby and that good link Patti.


  4. […] have. I have blogged on this before so I would refer you to this post on Charlotte’s view and this more general one on the biblical […]


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